Monday, August 25, 2008

The Red Tent (or, as I like to call it, "Blasphemy, Sacrilege, and a Bunch of Other Garbage")

With the popularity of Anita Diamant's The Red Tent, my conscience prods me to share my very strong feelings against it. I like books. I love a good story. I can put up with a little bit of inappropriate material in a book when I am captivated by the characters. Even books that aren't particularly well written I'll read and enjoy for whatever they have to offer. So I was surprised to find a book that stirred up such feelings of loathing. Hatred with a capital H, even. After the first 50 pages I was so disgusted that I very nearly didn't finish the rest. But it had come highly recommended so I persevered for my friend's sake. And now I'm glad I did so I can rant about it here.

But first, a little background with the story. Diamant's material is taken from the story of Dinah in the book of Genesis. Dinah, the daughter of Jacob, is defiled by Shechem who then wants to marry her. In retribution, her brothers require all the men of the city to be circumcised. Simeon and Levi attack while the men are recovering, slaughter ensues, and Dinah is rescued. Diamant tells this story with a different spin -- Dinah wasn't raped by Shechem, she loves him and goes with him willingly. But more central to the story is the red tent; the special menstrual tent set aside where the women come together each month to rest from their normal work, pamper each other, celebrate their womanhood, and increase their bonds of friendship.

This look at the private lives of the women in Jacob's household could have been very compelling (as Orson Scott Card treated it in his Women of Genesis series). But the fundamentals of Diamant's characters were so off the mark that I wondered if we were even talking about the same people! So many things were just plain wrong -- not just misunderstood, but completely factually incorrect. A little tweak here and there isn't a big deal, but her errors were so prolific that sometimes I wondered if she's read the same Bible I have! But I'll get into that later.

Now, you must understand that I am approaching this book from a Judeo-Christian background with the added perspective of being LDS. These perspectives include a belief in prophets -- righteous men who are called of God, obey His commandments, and further His work on the earth. This deeply colors my response to this novel, and if you don't share the same perspective you probably won't be as bothered by it.

There were a lot of things I took issue with, but I've narrowed it down to my biggest four.

#1. Holy tons of sex talk! Dinah and Shechem get together in a laughable manner that goes something like this: Boy sees girl. Girl sees boy. Time stands still. Without a word they go hide out and make love for days on end, united in bonds of passion so strong you are supposed to forget they're complete strangers. Riiiiiiight. And if that isn't ridiculous enough, the scene is repeated later in Dinah's life and we're supposed to believe -- again -- that this is how true love happens. It makes me wonder if Diamant has any idea what a real relationship consists of. But Diamant doesn't stop with her love scenes. The whole book is filled with sex talk, including all kinds of sexual perversions that alternated between making me ill and making me mad. Come on, who needs to read that?

#2. If you believe the Bible, as I do, then you believe that the major players in Genesis were covenant people of God and therefore were held to His high standards of worthiness. And yet, Diamant portrays them as being idolaters, lustful, and guilty of serious sins right and left (including some of the sexual perversions mentioned earlier). Not only that, they apparently have no sense of guilt or concern for breaking God's laws, as well as no real faith or religiosity. Except for their devotion to their idols. Wait, did I say idols? Because if there's one thing the Old Testament makes clear, I'm pretty sure it's that God doesn't tolerate idolatry. Huh. And I won't even begin to go into her portrayal of Isaac and Rebekah! Wow! Fiction I can appreciate. But I have no tolerance for mean-spirited slander. I can't help but make the comparison again with Orson Scott Card's novels. While I don't agree with everything in Card's portrayals, at least he paints his characters as good people who are sincerely trying to do what's right. They aren't perfect, and their flaws are glaringly obvious sometimes, but they are growing in their faith and devotion to each other and to their God. On the other hand, all of Diamant's men are despicable, her women aren't much better, and there is no hint of the faith that made them so remarkable. Which brings me to my next big issue.

#3. The feeling I got was that Diamant was so concerned with turning the story of Genesis on its head that she didn't care whether her version had any truth to it. Not just, "Let's try a more interesting interpretation," but, "Let's be as shocking and controversial as possible." I don't have a problem with experimenting with the story. This is fiction after all. But Diamant's method of trying to push it as far as possible comes across as very contrived and manipulative. It's not reinventing, it's forcing -- and that just makes it feel false. It was a little easier to enjoy the story after she left the pages of Genesis and followed the rest of Dinah's fictional life in Egypt. At that point the story lost it's manipulated feeling and was more interesting. Unfortunately, this departure didn't come until the end of the book, and it wasn't enough to redeem it. And just for good measure, Diamant brings Joseph in at the end and we see that he is a proud, arrogant bisexual with pedophilia tendencies. Nice. Because we needed one last jab at the prophets, thanks.

#4. A lot of women who love The Red Tent (my friend included) only focus on the sisterhood aspect of it. But I didn't think that theme was strong enough to make up for all the other garbage. In fact, her portrayal of the women is another big complaint of mine. Continuing the manipulation discussed in #3, Diamant was also falsely imposing 20th century feminist ideology on this ancient story. Not just letting it creep in a little bit. I mean a full blown campaign. Hence, all the women are powerful and obsessed with sex from the moment they enter puberty, and almost all the men turn out to be slimy, selfish pigs. I have no problem with celebrating womanhood and motherhood and sisterhood. I think that's great. But I do have a problem with doing it in the context of glorifying sexual perversions, and degrading prophets of God and their wives. That's not celebrating womanhood: That's debasing it by robbing us of our connection to deity that comes through righteous and virtuous living. I would love to see these great women portrayed as the noble daughters of God they were, but instead Diamant gives us weak, impotent shadows by comparison.

I could go on, but I've already spent too much time on a novel that doesn't deserve all the hype. In my opinion, there is nothing redeeming in The Red Tent, unless you're just looking to have some rousing discussion at a book club!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Newsy Booksy Stuff

In preparation for a big car trip this week, I was looking on my library's website for books on CD to listen to with my kids. I like to get books that we all like to listen to, so my first choice was The Mysterious Benedict Society, which I blogged about a year ago and is on my list of all-time favorites. Why I don't own it, I don't know. Wait, I do know. I'm stingy. I also don't own any of the Fablehaven books, but don't tell Brandon Mull that. I might lose my position as #1 Fan in the 25-34 age bracket.

Anyway, I wanted to get The Mysterious Benedict Society on CD to listen to as a family in the car, but alas, it was already checked out by some other lover of Trenton Lee Stewart's brilliance. As I was perusing, I noticed that there was another title by this author with the words "mysterious" and "benedict" and "society" on the front. Another book! I was happy enough when I thought there was only one book, but despite my crabbiness about series books, I was excited to see another one. The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey came out this year and I'm #22 on my holds list at the library. Will that force me to purchase it? Time will tell...

On another book-related note, I'm sure everybody has heard about the Harry Potter movie getting bumped back to July of 2009 instead of being released in November of this year. If you want my opinion (which of course you do, since you're reading this blog) it was not a decision made after they announced the November release date. This was a plot from the beginning. Say it's going to come out in November and get everybody excited, then change it to summer 2009. Honestly, I thought that would provoke more reaction out of me, but I had a bigger hissy about them making two movies of the last book. I think an excerpt of my reaction when my husband told me about it was "capitalistic, money-grubbing, greedy swine!" Or something like that. Sure, the last book is phenomenal and intense and long, but what is the first half of the book made into a movie going to be like? Footage of Harry, Ron and Hermione tromping through the woods and bickering? It's just a ploy for more money because crazed fans like me will pay $10 a pop to see it in the theater and then another $15 or so to buy it on DVD. I guess I wasn't too surprised when they moved the sixth movie to summer, so they could make more money. Poor Warner Brothers, desperate for money after the writers' strike. Maybe we could do a food drive or something.

My last bit of news is that Brandon Sanderson is doing a book signing at Brigham Young University this Thursday from 1:30 to 3:30 and even though I'll be in the same state, I'll be hours away and unable to get my husband to finally meet him. After our evening together, I decided that he and my husband were meant to be friends. If you're inclined and in the area, I recommend going and buying his books and getting him to sign them. I had him sign Elantris and Mistborns 1 & 2 as a surprise gift for my husband for our anniversary and in Elantris he wrote, "Surprise! Your wife is awesome!" That makes you want to go, doesn't it? Of course, being hours away and unable to go to his signing also means that I won't turn into a fangirl and be all like "Hey Brandon! Remember me? We had dinner with our families and I asked you five thousand questions and I pestered you into answering more questions for my co-review of Mistborn in September and I made semi-intellectual observations about the role of the arts and the scorn of academia and you pretended like I sounded smart? Yeah, that was pretty cool. Sign my book and be friends with my husband." At which point my very cute and easily embarrassed husband would turn around and leave the bookstore. He sure puts up with a lot, bless his heart. My husband, not Brandon Sanderson. He might put up with a lot too, but it didn't come up over dinner.

I'm hoping to get some reading done while on vacation, but if not, I'm sure I'll have much to say about the CD recordings of the books I picked to listen to. World's Best Audiobook Artist: Tim Curry. Betcha didn't know that. He is awesome. I hunted around for any book with him reading it, but alas, didn't find any. I'll have to put up with whoever else is reading.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Co-review: Breaking Dawn

(Warning - contains spoilers!)

Welcome to the first Red Hot Eyebrows co-review! It promises to be thrilling, especially since we have such different opinions about the book. But in order to have a thorough dialogue, we are going to need to talk about it openly, so if you haven't read Breaking Dawn yet and don't want us to give anything away, READ NO FURTHER!

Breaking Dawn opens a few days before Edward and Bella are to be married. Miraculously, nothing happens to postpone or interrupt the wedding and everything goes as planned. They spend an exotic honeymoon on a private island off the coast of Brazil, which is cut short when Bella discovers she is pregnant. And, as you would expect from a human-vampire union, this isn't any typical pregnancy. The fetus grows at an accelerated pace, and is so strong that it is hijacking all of Bella's nutrition and causing her intense pain when it moves -- even breaking bones. Bella refuses to abort the fetus, causing the first major conflict in the story since everyone who loves her believe that's the only way to save her life. Edward and Jacob develop something akin to friendship as they are united in their futile efforts to save her life. (In the process, Jacob has left his pack by claiming his birthright as the true Alpha). Bella gives birth violently and this act takes the last bit of mortal strength left in her. In order to save her life, Edward injects his venom into her heart and she begins the transformation process.

And that's just the first half.

The second half begins with Bella's transformation into a vampire. Through some supernatural quirk, she is able to exercise amazing self-control (funny how she couldn't do that as a human) and is able to make the transition to vampire quite smoothly. That's fortunate for the reader, since we didn't really want to see her through her newborn bloodlust stage anyway. There is still some concern about the baby, besides her horrible name. (Renesmee? Seriously??) And besides the fact that Jacob has imprinted on her. (Eww.) More worrisome still is the fact that Renesmee continues to grow and develop at a super fast pace, and no one is sure what the repercussions will be. But even that is overshadowed by the threat of the Volturi who, having been misinformed about the nature of this child, decide to come destroy her and the entire coven. This brings us to the final conflict in the book -- a showdown between the Cullens and the Volturi. Of course, Stephenie Meyer is nothing if not generous toward her main characters. They may suffer, but she works hard to provide happy endings for all, and Breaking Dawn is no different.

Caren: After the huge disappointment that was Eclipse, I had mixed feelings about reading Breaking Dawn. But after reading Stephenie Meyer's The Host and remembering the talent that made Twilight such a success, I began to get excited about the last installment in the saga. I was hoping for something fresh and unexpected, and in many ways that's what I got. I fully expected Meyer to postpone the wedding and/or Bella's transformation until the very end of the book, since I expected that those events would mark the end of the story. So I was very intrigued that she tackled them early on. And when Bella became pregnant, I thought, "Whoa. This is going a whole different direction than I expected." But I liked that direction. Meyer showed a lot of courage in bringing marriage and motherhood (arguably common and unromantic themes) into this story of vampires and werewolves without being afraid that it would derail the story. And it didn't. Maybe it's because I am a wife and a mother, but Bella had more of my sympathy in this book. She showed more maturity and understanding and seemed more like the Bella we first saw in Twilight. But that greater depth didn't make the book any less fun. There was still the suspense, the tension, and the uncertainty of "what next?" that kept me turning the pages. And while this conclusion wasn't the one I would have expected, it was still a satisfying resolution with enough freedom to know that the story would keep going beyond the last page.

Jenny: Here's my deal. Jacob got the shaft in this book. I honestly had hoped that Meyer would find him a worthy character to imprint on, not take the wimpy way out and have him imprint on Bella's baby. That was so icky and bizarre that it left me unsettled the rest of the book. Suddenly all those lovey-dovey feelings Bella and Jacob have had for each other is because they were destined to be in-laws?!

My other issue is that nothing is really sacrificed or earned for Bella's vampire-hood. She's an anomaly for newborn vampires with her self-control so she still gets to be around her family, she gets a miraculous baby, no more love triangle business, and a super-power to boot. Everything comes so easily. When the Volturi show up, she's able to use her powers perfectly, despite failing before (of course) and then when the bad guys leave without even a punch thrown, she lives happily forever after. It's just too easy. And I think I've pinpointed exactly why I despise how Meyer portrays Bella and her relationships with men, but I'll save that for later.

By the way, your comment about her self-control "funny how she couldn't do that as a human" seriously cracked me up. And Renesmee? Gag. So white trash.

Caren: I have mixed feelings about Jacob in this book. On the one hand, he gets demoted to a secondary character once he imprints on Renesmee, and only plays a shadowy role for the rest of the story. That doesn't seem like a very fair way for him to get his happily ever after. But on the other hand, I was so sick and tired of his obsession with Bella that I was kind of glad it happened just so he would shut up about it! I just wanted to shake him for most of his narrative and say, "Get over her! Move on with your life! Have a real relationship!" And I wanted to shake Bella and say, "You've made your choice! Start acting like the married woman you are and quit trying to have it both ways!" (Who else was cheering for Leah when she chewed Bella out?) After Jacob's conversation with Leah and wanting to have a choice in who he loves, I was hoping that he and Leah would develop a friendship that could turn into something else later down the road so we could see at least one relationship that wasn't predestined in this book. But I guess that would have been the more predictable route so kudos to Meyer for doing something so unexpected (even if it was a little unsettling).

This Bella/Jacob tension was one of the subplots that didn't really ring true for me. I felt like the love triangle had been resolved at the end of Eclipse. Bella made her choice. Jacob left to nurse his wounds and get over her. I had hoped that he was going to move on and was excited to see what developed for him in Breaking Dawn. Instead it seemed like Meyer changed her mind and made them go through this all over again so that she could take the story a different direction than she'd originally planned, and poor Jacob was no more than a means to an end.

I disagree that Bella didn't sacrifice anything for becoming a vampire. True, everything does work out perfectly for her. But after what she went through to give birth to Renesmee, I sort of felt like she earned the right to become a vampire and have everything go smoothly. She gave up everything that was hers to give -- her body, her life, her future with her Edward -- in order to give life to their child. Of all the times she's played the martyr, this was the only time it really had any meaning and nobility, and after such a sacrifice I think she earned it. Some things were a bit too contrived, though, like how easily things were resolved with Charlie. And I do wish the conflict with the Volturi had had a bit more pizazz. It was building nicely to an intense climax, and then it just deflated. But in spite of some of those too-good-to-be-true aspects, I really liked Bella as a vampire. It was an interesting perspective and I was glad to finally see her acting confident and strong and being the powerful heroine she should have been all along.

So, do share your feelings about Bella's relationships with men. I have a few things to say about that myself!

Jenny: After the forced kiss scene in Eclipse, I lost most of my devotion to Jacob. It was too creepy. Honestly though, how much worse is that than Edward's constant manipulation of Bella? But I really thought Meyer would have him make something happen with Leah and I was rooting for it. I was also getting really sick of Bella beaming every time Jacob walked into a room. She's married, for crying in the mud! I loved when he even said the same to her, but then again, he wasn't exactly walking away from her either. Ugh. It's like a bad soap opera.

I agree that Bella went through great suffering to have Renesmee. Yikes, writing her name makes me want to use initials instead. If I was carrying my half-vampire spawn o' love, I would want to protect her and make sure she made it safely into the world. And her pregnancy and labor were spectacularly awful. She gets points for going through that. I actually did like the fact that Edward made her a vampire to save her life, instead of just getting a bite on the neck on the honeymoon. It settled with me better. I never really wanted her to become one in the first place, but I was okay with those circumstances.

What I didn't like is how frail and dainty and powerless Bella is throughout the series and then, when she finally is a vampire, she's powerful. It irritated me. Why couldn't she have been a stronger person before she became a vampire? Everybody was always carrying her around, protecting her from everybody else and herself, making decisions for her, forcing her to put herself into harm's way to get any leverage in a situation. Then she's a vampire and boom! she can create forcefields and jump higher, control her appetite better than anybody, yadda yadda. Am I just a raging feminist if I wanted her to be stronger, take better care of herself, find healthier situations to be in?

She also has terrible taste in men. Notice how all these men, including the ones she's kissing, act more like father-figures than peers? And her actual father is a pretty poor one? Being carried around, told what to do, sitting on laps and patted on the head like a toddler is not my idea of romance. The only time she ever had a real friendship-based normal-for-a-teenager relationship was with Jacob in New Moon and then he turned into a turkey in Eclipse and ruined it. It's all just so unhealthy that it gets me riled up. I can suspend reality and recognize that this is just fiction, but it bugs me.

About halfway through Breaking Dawn, I set the book down and cleaned my bathrooms. I couldn't take more of Bella being a martyr, Jacob moping around, and Edward fretting anymore.

One more thing: part of what made these books so compelling for me was the action. Breaking Dawn had a shocking lack of action. The ending totally fell flat and I was bummed. I was really hoping for some fireworks with the Volturi especially with all the build-up, but I was denied. Maybe that soured my opinion.

Caren: I agree that the ending didn't live up to its potential. She could have done so much more with it. But other than that I didn't miss the action in the rest of the book because I was so caught up in the rest of the story. Bella's personal journey was significant and interesting enough that I didn't think the book was lacking anything. I actually think her inner strength was part of her character all along, she just buried it for some reason I can't figure out. In Twilight she was brave enough to accept Edward for what he was, and later faced James on her own to save her mother's life. In New Moon she showed courage by trying new and dangerous things as a way of breaking her promise to Edward. (Stupid, yes, and partially motivated by her desire to stay connected to him through her hallucinations -- but it also showed a certain amount of rebelliousness and individuality. ) It drove me crazy when she was weak and spineless in Eclipse, and I was glad when her true strength emerged in Breaking Dawn. Did she have to become a vampire to discover it? I don't think so. But then again, sometimes we only discover what we're really made of after facing major watershed moments in our lives, and she certainly had plenty of those in this book.

Does your irritation with Bella's previous weakness make you a raging feminist? Feminist yes, raging.....debatable. More importantly, is that a bad thing? Heck no! Stephenie Meyer could do with a bit more feminism raging in her characters, I think.

We all want someone who will take care of us, but I think Meyer pushed that dimension too far until it was sickening and misogynistic. That's an interesting thought about her boyfriends being father figures. I hadn't really thought of it that way before and that makes it even more disgusting. (Thanks a lot!) But it's always bothered me and another reason I liked Bella better as a vampire was that now she and Edward could have an equal relationship instead of this victim/savior thing they had going on.

As a side note, I did like their relationship in the beginning and was reminded why it was good for them to be together. There was a sweetness to the wedding and the honeymoon that was very satisfying. And I really like that Bella finally realized that marriage (and later, motherhood) were not the horrible scary things that she thought they were. She understands that the marriage commitment brings more depth to their intimate relationship than she expected. After all her stupidity in Eclipse with trying to get Edward to have sex with her, I wanted to applaud her for finally figuring that out. Good job for growing up, Bella!

One thing I did get tired of was the dishonesty. I understood why Bella kept her J. Jenks mission a secret from Edward. But why couldn't she tell the truth about her transformation process? Why can't she just say, "Holy cow, that was WAY worse than I expected! And the morphine totally screwed it all up. What a nightmare! But hey, don't take it personally. It's over now and look at what a babe I am!"? I mean, seriously, intentionally misleading him about it.....not a good way to start out your immortality together!

Jenny: I think being strong and being brave aren't necessarily the same thing. It was brave of her to be such a daredevil in New Moon, but it wasn't strong. Being strong would have meant she got over Edward and moved on with her life. Maybe I'm being nickpicky. I think part of the problem is that I just don't like Bella and I am stubborn about going back on my initial feelings about people. I've decided that even though I despise Bella as a human, I might like her as a vampire. More nerve, less spinelessness. Maybe she'll learn honesty over the millenia. Too bad the books are done. I take that back. I'm glad the books are done!

I'm running out of steam here. I think part of my overall dislike is that I'm not a fan of romances. I like romantic elements, but not romance as a genre and these books are most definitely romances. I got caught up in all the cool vampire/werewolf elements and did my best to ignore the melodrama, but it was just so fraught with it. Also, what was up with Jacob's section being in his voice, with the rest of the book being in Meyer's usual wordy prose? I loved that, especially the chapter headings. Hilarious. I would have loved more of that in the other books, or maybe doing that with Bella. We get her viewpoint, but not her voice. I stole that observation from my friend, Rachel, by the way.

Caren: What do you mean by "romances"? Do you mean romance as in a love story (like Pride and Prejudice or Romeo and Juliet)? Or do you mean romance as in capital "R" and sleazy pictures and literary porn? I do think these last two books had way more sensuality than is appropriate for a teenage audience, but I wouldn't go that far.

I disagree that Bella's narrative voice wasn't really her voice, but I agree that it's hard for Meyer to move out of that voice (as we saw in Eclipse when she told stories from Jasper and Rosalie's perspectives and there was no change in the voice or style). So I was pleased that she did Jacob's as convincingly as she did. And I'm so glad you mentioned his chapter titles! Too funny!

Jenny: I guess by romances I mean dramatic, drippy, pathetically inert female characters who are swept away by dashing men with cloudy pasts. If the Romance Spectrum ranges from Danielle Steele to Jane Austen, these books would fall somewhere mid-to-Steele for me.

Caren: Really? Danielle Steele? Yikes! I've never read any Danielle Steele (shoot me if I do, please), so maybe that's more accurate than I think. But ouch! That hurts!

Ultimately I think that each of these books gets more and more about the characters and less and less about the action, so if you're hanging on for the action you're bound to be disappointed. But I still like the characters even with their imperfections, so it was a satisfying ending for me.

Jenny: I don't have to have all action all the time, but she does include an awful lot of it in the other books and not in this one. I was just expecting it. Thanks for playing, Caren! I feel like I saw this book a bit better through your eyes, even if I still don't like it. Can't wait until next month!

Caren: It's been fun, Jenny! I can't wait to do this again!

Friday, August 8, 2008

Co-Reviews Are For Winners!

Here at Red Hot Eyebrows (the blog that everyone loves to read about reading), we aim to bring you an informative, pleasant, non-judgmental, warm-fuzzy kind of experience. Well, not really. If we tick people off, it's kind of fun. No, mostly we just enjoy writing about books and making attempts at being interesting. Sometimes insightful too, but that's not a guarantee. In an effort to keep up our high quality, we've decided to start doing co-reviews once a month. It'll be like when you go to your book club and the same two people talk the entire time and hash over minute details without really letting anybody else talk. Except cooler because it's Caren and me doing it.

To your right, you can see the sidebar that lists our up-coming book reviews through the next few months. If you click on them, it'll take you to to read up on the summaries of the books. Now, don't fret, you don't have buy them! It is just a more reliable source of information than, say, Wikipedia--website of drunken marmosets smacking typewriters. You can read the summary, possibly read the book and then eagerly await with baited breath for our co-review in the assigned month.

The cool part of this is to see what different viewpoints and opinions can emerge from one book. Caren and I might see something differently and then all the commenters might say differently and it'll turn into a big, fun, messy mash-up of opinions. I can't wait!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Leprechauns, Death, and a pirate named Fluffy

Thanks to a little blurb in the BYU Magazine a year or so ago highlighting BYU grad Teresa Bateman, we have discovered a new favorite children's author at our house. Her whimsical stories are delightful for children, and she often uses clever wordplay and unexpected twists that make them a treat for parents too.

A hands down favorite for my kids is Fluffy, Scourge of the Sea. This story features a pampered poodle, Fluffy, who falls into the hands of pirates. He uses his wits and talents to not only save his life, but ends up overthrowing the pirate captain and instituting a new regime. The illustrations by Michael Chesworth are as humorous as the rhyming verse, with details that keep my kids poring over the pages.

I instantly fell in love with Keeper of Soles. While the subject of Death coming to get you may be a bit macabre for young children, Bateman's characteristic good humor is imbued into every page. Colin is a cobbler who has great talent and a generous heart. When Death comes to his door one night to claim his soul, Colin notices his bare feet and distracts him by offering to make him a pair of sandals. When the sandals are finished he moves on to boots, sneakers, and so forth, succeeding in staving off Death's claim for years to come. The illustrations by Yayo with their repeating shoe motif add to the humor of the story and provided giggles for my kids when some of the text went over their heads. The story ends with a clever twist and satisfying resolution, making it worth reading over again.

A Plump and Perky Turkey is another example of Bateman's flair for snappy rhymes. (And the title? I dare you to not use it this Thanksgiving!) This story features a town with a serious problem: At Thanksgiving time, all of the local turkeys make themselves scarce. To lure one to town, the townspeople decide to hold an arts and crafts fair featuring turkey art, which will (of course) require a live model. When Pete -- a very plump and perky turkey -- answers their ad, things don't go exactly as planned, but the silly ending is fitting and engenders a new appreciation for shredded wheat!

Many of Bateman's stories have Irish themes. While I don't like the illustrations in Leprechaun Gold, the story and narrative voice are delightful. Donald O'Dell is an honest man whose only disappointment in life is not having a wife and family. When he saves a leprechaun's life and refuses the reward of leprechaun gold, the leprechaun finds a more creative way to repay him for his good deed and brings Donald lasting happiness that far outweighs worldly prosperity. It's a sweet story that lacks some of the quick wit of her others', but has a deeper meaning instead. And the delightful Irish lilt in the narrative voice makes it a lot of fun to read out loud!

April Foolishness and Will You Be My Valenswine? both fall into the "cute" category. So far I've only read one of hers that I didn't like. Traveling Tom and the Leprechaun starts out as a cute story but ends with a slightly negative tone that I didn't care for. Even more unsettling were the illustrations, though I can't really put my finger on why they creeped me out. Of course, that isn't the author's fault, but the two combined to give it a thumbs down from me.

But with so many other successes, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend Teresa Bateman's work. And checking my library's online catalog, I see that she has a lot more we need to try!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Paper Towns

I love free stuff. Okay, that's a bit inaccurate. I go crazy for free stuff. When I see on somebody's blog "post here and you might get free stuff" I do it. Right that second. The kitchen could be on fire and my daughters running around screaming their brains out and I would be typing very, very fast. When I saw on (stands for What Adrienne Thinks About That) that if I was the first to post, I would get a free book, I had to make sure I was the first to post. Adrienne is a librarian and blogger and woman of hilarity who writes excellent Queen Amidala diary entries and reviews fabulous books and has ideas for librarians and gives away free stuff. Specifically, to me.

The book was Paper Towns by John Green and it was an ARC copy, meaning Advanced Reader Copy or Advanced Review Copy or something like that. It's not published yet, but the publisher sends out freebie copies for people to review and buzz about. It's not complete and is subject to change, but for the most part, it's what you'll get when the commoners buy it later. I know nothing about John Green. Never read anything by him, and knew nothing about his books. I was a wasteland of John Green knowledge. But it was free, man. Gotta have it.

Quentin Jacobsen and Margo Roth Spiegelman have been next-door neighbors since they were toddlers, but they haven't been friends in almost a decade. Now it's their senior year and they're about to graduate with Quentin still in love with Margo and Margo still pretending Quentin doesn't exist. Yes, ripe full of teen angst this one is! Whoa, I wrote like Yoda there. Cool. Anyway, just a few weeks away from graduation, Margo sneaks into Quentin's room and invites him on an adventure that he cannot resist. They spend all night pulling pranks on Margo's cheating ex-boyfriend, friends that she had trusted and one of Quentin's least favorite people. They have a great time together and Quentin sees his opportunity to finally connect with Margo again. The next day, Margo is missing. She's run away (the third time she's done that) and her parents throw their hands up. Nobody seems to care to look for this free spirit except Quentin. He's convinced there's more to it than her typical melodrama that she likes to inflict on people. When he begins his search for her, he discovers that there's a whole lot more to this girl than he realized and that what he knew of her was mostly a pretense.

I always wanted to be that girl, like Margo, who was adventurous, uncompromising, dynamic and drew people to her like a magnet. But I was more like Quentin: conscientious, goal-oriented, relies on his friends, does the right thing all the time. I became more adventurous in college and after, but high school is such a gauntlet. You're under such close scrutiny that I wasn't brave enough to do anything but what was expected of me. Margo does whatever the heck she likes, regardless of the damage it inflicts on everyone around her. But she's also deeply hurting, dealing with her personal pains in the way she knows how. It doesn't excuse some of her behavior, but it does explain it. Quentin is such a good kid, such a loyal friend, so patient with Margo's imperfections that it's not a bad thing to be a kid like that.

This is a book written in the language of teenagers. I'm sure it's being marketing in the Young Adult market, but honestly I think it's a great adult novel too. The characters speak, think and act like teenagers. I found myself identifying my years in that stage with different characters. Quentin's friends are hilarious, sex-obsessed, normal teenage boys. Margo's friends seem shallow, but you get to know them better as the book goes on. The only thing I didn't like is the assumption that everybody is or will be having sex and drinking beer. If you ask most honest teenagers, that's not really the norm as it's depicted on tv or in books. But nothing is graphic and some of it is really funny.

A theme that permeats the book is that you don't know people as well as you think you do. Everybody makes assumptions based on how people act or look, but really, you don't know people. I remember feeling that way in high school. If only people really knew me! You should hold your judgements and get to know someone better before you place them in a category. Or better yet, trash the categories and enjoy the person. Because of Margo, many of these characters begin to look at each other in different lights. Because of Quentin, people are brought together who wouldn't be otherwise. This book ends with a rocking graduation adventure and the twists along the way make it a page-turner. There's an awful lot of Walt Whitman in this book, which makes me ashamed that I've never read Leaves of Grass. I'll get right on that and I'll also be adding more John Green to my repertoire from now on.

Monday, August 4, 2008

An Evening with Brandon Sanderson

I wish I were cool enough to say that I know authors on a personal basis, but really, I don't. I do have very cool friends who have friends who are married to authors. Well, one friend with one other friend with one husband who is an author. That author is Brandon Sanderson, writer of Elantris, which I can't say enough nice things about, and the chosen vessel to finish Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time epic series of fantasy novels. When my friend, Libby, informed me that she had invited the Sandersons over for dinner when they were in town for a convention, I hopped on one foot, bit my knuckles, bugged my eyes out like a crazy person and, feigning disinterest, said, "Oh really, that's nice or whatever." She then invited me over too, probably to quit witnessing me act like a ninny.

Don't worry, I played it cool. I had a mental list of questions for him, but in the end, I forgot most of them because my children were running around like hooligans. My husband, a bigger Robert Jordan fan than I could ever aspire to be, had to miss it because of a wedding out of state and was terrified that I would go on an anti-Jordan rant like I am wont to do. I explained to Brandon that I tended to have a love/hate relationship with the books, but overall, I had great respect and admiration for Jordan's writings. I didn't embarrass you, honey!

If I were a real journalist, I would have taken short-hand (no idea how) or recorded our conversation (that would have been weird), but as it is, I'm just going to share with you the interesting facts I learned about Brandon Sanderson. Some of these you probably could learn from his website, but I'm lazy and haven't read it all through yet.
  • He wore a fedora in college. And was in the marching band. That makes him an incurable nerd, but only increases his credentials. You wouldn't want a jock writing fantasy novels, right?
  • I loved his advice to aspiring writers. Write constantly and continuously. Write tons of garbage. Don't start your first book with your best ideas. Start with simpler, stupider stuff to refine your writing.
  • I had told him how much my hubby and I love the fact that his books were not the typical fantasy novel where something happens to some guy that forces him to go on a journey to recover a magical object and reaches his destination. He said he writes his novels exactly the opposite of that typical story line because he felt it was a tired concept.
  • Elantris was the 8th book he wrote and Mistborn was the 14th. They were also his first and second books published, so he takes his own advice to heart on writing.
  • Harriet Rigney, the widow of Robert Jordan, chose Sanderson to finish the final Wheel of Time book because of a beautiful eulogy Sanderson wrote upon Jordan's death. She read a book by Sanderson, then called him up on the phone and offered him the monumental task. Sanderson's wife said that was the most flustered she has ever seen him. Gee, I wonder why?
  • Sanderson loves proactive characters. Sarene, the princess in Elantris, is a go-getter who makes things happen. You see that in Mistborn too with the character Kelsier. He likes his characters to go out there and be leaders and decision-makers.
  • The government in Elantris is based on Sanderson's pondering of "what if a government was run like multi-level marketing?"
  • Despite my intial feeling that the warrior religion in Elantris was based on Islam, he says it's more of "Vikings meet Catholicism" and the more peaceful religion as "Buddha meets Christianity."
  • He likes Harry Potter and loves the 3rd and 4th books best. We talked about Harry quite a bit and for that, I'm now an ardent admirer.
  • I just barely finished Mistborn and now I'm on to the next book, The Well of Ascension. The third book comes out in October, but in fact, all three books were written all in a row several years ago. Makes me wonder what else is sitting on his hard drive, waiting to be spaced out over the upcoming years.
  • He sold the rights to Dreamworks Pictures for his children's book, Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians. Keep an eye out.
  • My fellow biblioblogger, Caren, and I are going to do a co-review of Mistborn in September and Brandon is going to answer questions we'll pose to him. That makes him even cooler to let a couple of mommies who read an awful lot pester him with questions.
It was a fun night and even though I tend to talk too much when I get excited about books, I hope he felt like I was interested in what he had to say. Thanks to Libby and family for hosting the evening! Everybody else, go buy some Brandon Sanderson books!